Tax reform opponents slam Dunlap
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BY SUSAN M. COVER
Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 10/28/2009

AUGUSTA -- Maine Republicans said Tuesday they are confused and frustrated that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has missed a deadline to certify signatures calling for a people's veto in June.

Still Fed Up With Taxes turned in more than 60,000 signatures Sept. 11 in an effort to overturn a new tax reform law. The state constitution gives Dunlap 30 days to determine whether the signatures are valid.

"I find the whole process amazing to me," said Charlie Webster, GOP chairman. "If you read the constitution, it's very clear the secretary of state has 30 days. He didn't obey the law. I can't understand how he gets away with it."

Dunlap said he has eight fewer staffers than he did a year ago, and that they had to prioritize their time because of Tuesday's referendum election.

"We're well into the process," Dunlap said. "We've made great progress, but we're not done yet. It's got to be done thoroughly. It's how we ensure the legitimacy of the petitions."

He said he did not want to specify when the petitions would be completed.

Republicans first stated their objections Oct. 16 -- three days after the deadline -- when Waterville lawyer Dan Billings wrote a letter to Dunlap and Gov. John Baldacci.

Billings called on the governor to issue the proclamation calling for the election because Dunlap missed the deadline.

"The constitution presumes the petitions are valid if they are turned in on time," he said, adding that he believes because Dunlap missed the deadline, he no longer has the power to declare petitions invalid.

The governor's office has reviewed the constitutional issues and is now looking at statutory language, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Charlie Summers, vice chairman of the Maine Republican Party, called on Baldacci and Attorney General Janet Mills to enforce Maine law.

Summers and others met Tuesday with Dunlap, and Summers said Dunlap assured them his staff is working to complete the process.

But Summers said that's no excuse for missing the deadline.

"We feel we were held to a certain standard," Summers said. "Had we not submitted those petitions by the 11th of September, the secretary would have rejected them because we would not have met the criteria of the law."

The group wants to put a question on the June ballot that would ask voters to reject a new state law that makes major changes to the tax system.

The law, passed by Democrats and signed by Baldacci, reduces the income tax from 8.5 to 6.5 percent for income below $250,000 and to 6.85 percent for income over $250,000.

To pay for the reduction, the new law increases the meals and lodging tax from 7 to 8.5 percent and applies the state's 5 percent sales tax to dozens of additional items such as car repairs, movie tickets and dry cleaning.

Supporters say the new system will provide stability to state revenue by broadening the sales tax base beyond new car sales and construction materials.

Webster called it "a scam on the working class."

Those seeking to overturn the law had 90 days from the date of legislative adjournment to turn in 55,087 signatures for a people's veto.

When they turned in the signatures, Still Fed Up With Taxes indicated they felt confident they would have enough signatures because they turned in only those that had previously been validated by town clerks.

Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, said the delay is not only unfair to those who worked to gather the signatures, but has practical implications for the coming campaign.

"We have been out trying to organize a coalition to begin the process if we have our signatures to get this victory in June," he said. "People are saying to us, 'Well, we don't know if you have the signatures yet, so we're not going to commit to you.'"

Dunlap said his staff is doing the best they can.

"I am exasperated," he said. "It's beyond my control."

Susan Cover -- 620-7015

scover@centralmaine.com

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